These Summer Road Trips from Houston Take 5 Hours Tops
“Are we there yet?” It’s a common groan on any long drive, and on a typical weekend, it’s best not to spend all your free time in the car. But if you have extra days to spare this summer, a healthy five-hour drive is a piece of cake in Texas time.
Texas borders four US states and four Mexican states, so there’s no limit of places to go. Whether grabbing your passport, crossing state lines, or staying within Texas, choose from these four summer road trips and follow our guide for where to eat, play, and stay.
Houston to New Orleans
When it comes to food and drink, be spontaneous—it’s the NOLA way. Sip on the most popular drink in town at Pat O’Brien’s, a sweet red rum Hurricane served with cherries. Don’t forget to try a frozen drink from the drive-through daiquiri stands sprinkled across town and in the French Market, where you can also shop for souvenirs. The food in New Orleans stretches from Paris to Port-au-Prince and from Cádiz to the Congo. Pair a cup of au lait with a beignet at Cafe du Monde for breakfast, order a fried oyster po’boy at Parkway for lunch, and indulge in the Creole redfish court-bouillon at Gris-Gris for dinner.
Because you can never see everything in one trip, the best way to tour the Crescent City is to prioritize. Looking to learn about the city's architecture and complex history? Head to the Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter for a free and accessible self-guided tour. Want to know more about Mardi Gras? Feast your eyes on elaborate masks and costumes at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Tremé neighborhood. And what’s up with the city’s obsession with death? Find out at the Museum of Death, also in the French Quarter.
The key is to find a place with personality that’s close to the French Quarter but not directly in it, to avoid the noise. The nearby Warehouse District or the Lower Garden District are great alternatives during the summer months.
Summer happenings: Essence Festival (June 29–July 3), Bastille Day Fête (July 14), Tales of the Cocktail (July 23–July 28)
Houston to McAllen, Texas
The border town of McAllen has many influences from all along the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico. It’s celebrated for world-class citrus and produce (the best grapefruit of your life awaits you at the local farmers market), but the trip wouldn’t be complete without going to Palenque Grill for its puntas de filete al albañil, sirloin beef tips in a spicy sauce. For a quick bite, the McAllen Food Park has a plethora of local options, and for dinner, make a reservation at the Patio on Guerra. End your evening bar hopping along 17th Street, an entertainment district known for its nightlife scene—think Austin’s famous Sixth Street, but smaller.
McAllen has an acclaimed birding scene. Visit the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, which harbors some of the most diverse birdlife in the world, to see hook-billed kites, gray hawks, chachalacas, and great kiskadees. At Quinta Mazatlan, a 1935 Spanish Revival country estate located downtown, take a tour through the 15-acre Tamaulipan thornscrub forest and stroll through the gardens to see the most colorful birds.
The city also boasts several art museums and galleries, including the International Museum of Art and Science dedicated to Latin American art, the Spanish Colonial Nuevo Santander Gallery, and the new Art Village on Main. For shopping, check out downtown’s small boutiques, or head to La Plaza Mall or the newest shopping and entertainment complex, Palms Crossing.
Downtown McAllen is the best place to stay for its central location. If you want to immerse yourself in Spanish architecture, reserve a room at the Casa De Palmas, which features a pool, restaurant, and gym, and is located just two blocks down from the entertainment district.
Summer happenings: MXLAN (July 27–31)
Houston to Frisco, Texas
Visitors to Frisco will consider this a hidden gem, but locals know that if you want a solid breakfast any time of day, you go to the Depot Cafe. Try the buttery biscuits, huevos rancheros, or the extensive vegan menu. For lunch, visit TruFire Kitchen & Bar, a Mediterranean-American restaurant that has the best garlicky noodles and pizza in the area. Bottled in Bond Cocktail Parlour & Kitchen is next door, but if you already ate, head to the speakeasy-style bar adjacent to the restaurant for a nightcap and live music.
Whether you’re into football, golf, soccer, or baseball, Frisco shines on all fronts. Lounge in the Lazy River at Riders Field while catching a baseball game, or tour the Dallas Cowboys headquarters and watch them practice at the Star. If you’re feeling fancy, head to the new Omni PGA Frisco Resort for a game of golf at the 10-hole short course or one of two championship 18-hole courses. For a more casual golf experience, there’s the Omni Ice House, a modern ranch-style venue with six live hitting bays and great views of the green.
Tour the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Toyota Stadium, which uses facial recognition (and a survey you fill out before touring) to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience. Build your own soccer team, create a scarf to take home, and design an MLS kit. For the young at heart, visit the National Videogame Museum, where you can view gaming relics of the past and play the games that once kept you up all night (Super Mario Bros., anyone?) in the ’80s-style arcade.
The Westin Dallas Stonebriar Golf Resort & Spa has eight luxurious treatment rooms and guest-only golf courses (also part of the Stonebriar Country Club, which has its own members). For those who consider shopping a serious sport, the Hyatt Regency Frisco-Dallas is attached to the Stonebriar Centre mall. If you’re an aspiring Jon Rahm, be one of the first to stay at the brand-new Omni PGA Frisco Resort and experience the ultimate golf trip.
Summer happenings: Mustang Sally Car, Truck, and Motorcycle Show (June 4), Frisco Freedom Fest (July 4)
Houston to Piedras Negras, Mexico
From Eagle Pass, cross the Mexican border into the charming town of Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Try one of the state’s specialties known as a discada (also sometimes called a chatarra), which features a meaty mixture of chorizo, venison, beef, tomato, and onion cooked on a comal. The city also claims the invention of the nacho. That’s right: Before it became a Tex-Mex staple, the tortilla chips and melted cheese combo was born in the 1940s in this Mexican town.
As Coahuila’s fifth-biggest city, and a popular place for expats, Piedras Negras has many attractions. Upon crossing the Mexico border onto Bridge 1, you’ll come across the Museo De La Frontera Norte (Northern Border Museum) and the Museo Del Niño (The Children’s Museum). Tour old buildings in the Downtown Historic Center like Antiguo Hotel del Ferrocarril and Zaragoza Market.
Plaza de las Culturas is a bustling city square that contains smaller-scale replicas of famous archaeological sites in the country, such as the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the 365 Niches, and the Pyramid El Castillo. The plaza also has many colorful murals and sculptures, an auditorium, a musical fountain, a cultural building, a planetarium, and shops to enjoy, all within walking distance of each other.
Whether you want to stay close to the border or drive deeper into the city, there are many budget-friendly hotels to choose from. Hampton Inn by Hilton Piedras Negras is a top-rated hotel in the area that’s walking distance from some of the main attractions like the Sanctuary of Guadalupe and Gran Plaza.
Summer happenings: Market Day at the Lake in Eagle Pass (June 3), Dog Days of Summer Festival in Eagle Pass (August 12)